Ask the expert: Fresh marketing advice for the new year

An interview with Direct Line Group's Mark Evans, part I

Mark Evans is a busy guy. He’s the managing director of marketing & digital for Direct Line Group, an insurance company, but he’s also chairman of the School of Marketing and host of the “Oh the Places We’ll Go” web series.

With so much going on, is there anything Mark can’t do? Well, we haven’t asked him for a chicken piccata recipe yet, but we might, just to see what happens! In the meantime, Mark has (as you might imagine) quite a lot of wisdom to share with the marketing community. So much so that we’ll be publishing his interview in two parts – that’s right, twice as nice for the same price! (Which, for the record, is free.) Let’s start with Mark’s best marketing advice in Part I.



Here’s what Mark had to say…

Phrasee: Tell us about the School of Marketing and your mission there.

Mark: Many people stumble into the world of marketing as a happy accident. The School of Marketing was created to help more people into the industry, and particularly from a diverse background, in a much more deliberate and planned way. It offers content, advice, and inspiration, and hopefully builds capability and confidence as people try to begin and build a career within marketing.

 

Phrasee: What’s the best piece of marketing advice you’ve heard in the past year?

Mark: Mark Ritson gave a loud warning in the early days of the pandemic not to lose sight of the basic principles of marketing. Many have been tempted to dramatically reduce marketing spend, or they’ve put successful campaigns in the bin far too early. We are really happy to have held our nerve and have continued to brand-build despite the context. Our spend levels and campaigns have held strong across the brand portfolio, and we believe that we will be rewarded for that.

 

Phrasee: Is there one key piece of advice that you give to everyone who’s trying to improve their marketing?

Mark: Yes, and it’s to be even more curious. Curiosity is the cornerstone of a good marketer’s toolkit in order to discover new ways to meet customer needs. I was fortunate enough to work for Bruce McColl when I was at Mars, and he used to say that there is always a great insight lurking around the corner that is just waiting to be discovered that can transform a brand, a business or even a sector. You just need to be curious enough to find it. Over time, I have come to realise that these pivotal insights are often hiding in plain sight.


“Curiosity is the cornerstone of a good marketer’s toolkit.”

Mark Evans, Direct Line Group

Phrasee: Which brands do you think have done the best job this past year in terms of marketing? 

Mark: Obviously I think we have done a fantastic job with the re-launch of the Direct Line campaign at the beginning of last year, taking a bold decision to move on from the highly successful “Fixer” campaign to something even more epic with the “We’re on it” campaign.

But aside from us, I think Peleton, Amazon and Xbox are amongst the brands that have done a great job of making the most out of the pandemic. And it’s hard not to be impressed with Gymshark and its emergence as a major player in sports apparel and a zeitgeist brand. It has had phenomenal success in creating a brand and products that have very rapidly become iconic. It is also one of the very few brands to have cracked its presence within TikTok.

 

Phrasee: How do you think marketers can best evangelize their team’s accomplishments to the rest of the company?

Mark: Evangelizing is a double-edged sword because unless it’s built upon a solid standing and reputation it can be perceived as self-aggrandizing. Particularly in the case of marketing where awards flow quite freely. That’s why it’s important for marketers to first establish commercial credibility. Starting with the economics legitimizes your great achievements without the risk of cynicism or dismissal. This helps for the function to be seen as a strategic contributor rather than a “coloring-in” function. I often say that if you’re really proud of your advertising, show it to your mum rather than the Board.

 

Phrasee: Who’s been your favorite person to interview on the “Oh the Places We’ll Go” series and why?

Mark: It’s a tough question because we’ve been privileged to have so many amazing guests on the show. It’s a bit like asking which of your children do you love the most! Nonetheless, I would probably say Ben Kay, partly because he is a World Cup winner in the sport of rugby to which l owe so much, but mainly because he showed so much humility and humanity for someone who has achieved so much.

 

Check out Part II of Mark’s interview here.


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